Best tourney format for absolute beginners

My business partner and I have set up a pinball arcade at work, 15 machines including mid 70s EM, SS, 90s and modern DMD. I’m going to run a tournament for our 10 staff and I am wondering what is the best format for pinball beginners to 1. Enjoy themselves & 2. Get hooked on pinball?

My thoughts so far are

  • pingolf will introduce them to the concept of rules eg start a multiball, complete a mode, but most beginners probably don’t have the skills to achieve any objectives
  • head to head format (eg 3 strikes or round robin) will appeal to the competitive types
  • pick 2 or 3 machines and have a highest score tournament on these. Focusing on just a few machines will help them with the rules and feeling like they have mastery

I always hear newbies saying they like 4 player group three strike tournaments. The more 4 player groups the better really.

The only complaints I’ve gotten from the newbies in my area were when I did head to head round robin tournaments a couple months in a row.


Is there such thing as a format where people play one at a time instead of a 4 player game? Just picturing a lot of random balls being plunged.

Try a team format, i.e. total score for players 1+3 vs. 2+4, and rotate both partners and groups each game. People get a point for each winning team they’re on. That way there’s a bit less focus on how well an individual does and more on doing well in general. Nobody’s knocked out at any stage [good], people play in groups [more social, good], and “teamwork” is rewarded [good given the nature of the group?]. Also, let players coach each other - - for this format and beginner level, I’d explicitly allow coaching during play, which will let them learn faster than they might if they’re being more individually competitive.


Split flipppers! Seriously. We did this for a team outing at work recently (3 pinball players out of 50 people) and it was fantastic. Forces people to work together and it’s very social.

We did a two-strikes knockout and that worked well time wise. You don’t want things to run longer than a couple of hours because people think pinball is fun, but not that fun. Split flipper games don’t usually last very long so that’s nice too.

You have enough games that there are plenty of games for people to play while waiting for a round to finish or after they’ve been eliminated form the tournament. It’ll be glorious :slight_smile:

Protip: Give an intro first and keep it extremely basic. E.g. start by showing people how to put multiple players on a game. Otherwise all your co-workers will start single player games and alternate balls. Or at least that’s what mine did!


We’ve been running rotating formats every Tuesday at Logan Arcade for the last few months, and getting a lot of newer players. We only do formats without elimination: pingolf, pin football, Logan league play, Pinball Pinball Pinball, and Swiss match play. Of those, I think pingolf and Swiss match play (four players) have been the most appreciated by the newer players - the former because, as said above, it’s good for introducing pinball concepts to people through goal choice, and the latter because there’s no weird format to memorize, and you play with a rotating cast of people.


What is pin football?

We run a competition every other month where you get randomed into a 4 player group. Play 6 machines with same people and then 2 best in each group move on. (4-3-2-1 points each game). Usually it is a quite friendly way to get into the society, not as serious as our other competitions and a chance to actually remember some names since you hang with same group for 3-4 hours.

Edit: Realize its horrible for your 10 player group who actually know each other allready, I should learn to read entire posts :slight_smile:


One of our regulars told us about a time he’d played sort of a variant of pingolf, but with “field goals,” “touchdowns,” and “extra points.” I couldn’t find any rules online, so I made up my own!

The field goal should be something an intermediate player should be able to get with ease; the touchdown something a bit more difficult but essential to the game. It’s best if these aren’t part of the same “system” within the game - for example, in Addams Family: 3 bear kicks for FG & 6 for TD isn’t as good as 5x Swamp for FG & bear kicks -> extra ball for TD.

The extra point can be something related to the TD, but it doesn’t have to be. For instance, in Addams Family, once we had it that the extra point was just hitting the vault shot at some point. But if the TD is, say, building something up to 6x or getting a jackpot, then it’s OK to have the extra point be building up to 9x, or getting a super jackpot.

Players are grouped into, ideally, foursomes. That grouping will remain throughout the session. Player order within the group is not something I’ve ever been able to bring myself to care about, so do as you feel is correct.

A player can score the FG, the TD, and the +1 (extra point) once each per table. The +1 only counts if the TD was also achieved - but if the +1 happens before the TD, or still counts. Basically, you can get a total of 10 points per table. Except…

The first “tilt” per group per table is a safety, and the non-tilting players in the group each get two points. Subsequent tilts in that group on that table playthrough will be ignored. Subsequent tables played by the group will have their own chances at safeties.

One table per night is designated as the tiebreaker; everyone records their scores on that table, and those are used to break ties in the “football” scores. So if you and I both ended the night with 56 points, but you got 11M on “Radical!” compared to my 2M, you would finish ahead of me.

I’ve found that in a format like this, 6 tables works out to 120-150 minutes. Its advantage is that it’s good at teaching pinball skills to newer players while providing challenges and excitement to the more experienced. Its biggest disadvantage is that as league administrators we have to spend time coming up with appropriate scoring goals, and that can take a while - and then there’s adjusting the goals after seeing how well your regular players do; plenty of times we’ve set goals we thought were perfectly reasonable, only to have almost everyone bogey out!


Thanks, Bob, I like your idea because then experts can participate and go their hardest, too. Everyone gets a turn to team up with the experts and get some tips from them :slight_smile:

Thanks everyone else, I like all these ideas. I’ll be running a lot of tournaments for our customers so there is plenty of opportunity to try these formats out. Spreading the word and introducing new people to pinball.

As others have noted in their replies, four-player groups and non-elimination formats are great for beginners because those not playing can discuss the game with their groupmates (or talk about something non-pinball related!), and it’s less cutthroat because no one is “out” before anyone else. I would suggest a couple of rounds of four-player match play, maybe 4 or 5, so that everyone plays a couple of different games but it’s over before people start to feel fatigued.


We’re doing exactly that here in Trondheim, where there has been virtually no location pinball for 15 years until we started a small location a year ago. We do 5 rounds of four-player matches, then the top 4 play a final where it’s best of three games. There is typically 12-15 players, and each tournament usually lasts 3 - 3.5 hours. Extra balls plunged, not played.

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I enjoyed the summer league in my area that was PinGolf format, four players per group. Four tables were chosen ahead of time (a nice mix of eras and styles) and each table had seven point goals to attempt to reach, the goal of course to get the top score in the fewest balls. You were given a half hour before the start to play a game or two on each table to get familiar with it and before a group would start one of the more experienced hosts would stop by their table and point out some of the goals or strategies for each table. It is hard to get more welcoming then that and a great time was had by all.

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I was going to suggest four-player group play, but I like the idea of easy “touchdown” goals for a small amount of extra credit - it helps focus people on making specific shots rather than flailing wildly. Most beginner players don’t have a concept of strategy beyond not draining (not that there’s anything wrong with that).


Just to clarify, do you mean there were 7 goals per table, each worth one point? If so, what were the bonus points for completing all 7 goals in 3 or less balls?

For example of Pinball Table X: The goal was to get to the 10,000 point mark. If you got it on the first ball were awarded 1 point. If it took two balls you would get 2 points and if it took all three balls you would get 3 points. Of course, like golf you want a low score. If you did not reach the goals you were awarded points based on your final score. Saw getting 9,000-9999 point you were awarded 4, 8,000-8,999 was 5 and so on. right down to 0-1,000 points.

Of course this is a very basic example but what it resulted in was that everyone had to make every ball count. Even if you were on an unfamiliar table and behind an un-godly amount of points going into your third ball you could look at the chart and think, “If I can score 376 points I can hit the next goal and lower my score by another point”. It really made for a beginner friendly game because there was always a goal that you could realistically achieve no matter what your skill level.

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It was Pinmasters style scoring. I just didn’t set all the games to 5 ball play and also had 4 point divisions instead of 5 – maxing the max score on a game a 7.

I found most people like it better than just getting a 4 for not making the target score. It adds a lot more thrill and, like Matesamo said, you are always trying to get to the next point threshold (especially on ball 3. During finals, one player totally bombed on the last game in his group and ended up getting knocked out when all he had to do was get halfway to the target. Definitely adds excitement.

One reason I didn’t do 5 ball play for pingolf is a) the amount of time and b) NEPL has all the historical data for all the machines played (using the FSPA software) so I could just take the average score on each machine as my target.

Glad you enjoyed the tournament!

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I get it, thx!